Featured Musician - July 2006
Name: Brian Ward
Early Years/Education: I grew up in a musical family in Salem, Oregon. My mother plays viola and my dad, two brothers and two aunts all play the bass, and everybody sings.
I attended North Salem High School, located across the street from Willamette University. A professor there took me under his wing and showed me the chord changes so I could play jazz. I started playing professionally at age fifteen. I studied with Gordon Lee and took a few lessons from Dave Leslie.
As a high schooler I'd show up at the Hobbit every Sunday for the jam session and Leroy Vinnegar would always put me up first and make me call the tune.
He would then proceed to show me everything I didn't know about the tune I supposedly knew. Leroy, Mel Brown and Eddie Wied were always good to me. After high school I attended the Berklee College of Music.
I dropped out because they wanted me to play rock. I knew if I came back to Portland and started playing all the time, I'd really learn jazz.
Eventually, I completed my formal education at PSU earning a BA of Music in '99 and an MA in Teaching in '01. I currently teach piano at PSU using the "Duckworth Method" where you can teach beginning students to play in all the keys by means of a finger pattern.
Gospel Music: About 1989 this guy called me up and asked me to play piano for a local Baptist church. I quickly fell in love with the music.
I was able to play by ear...the rhythm and the phrasing is to me the core of what jazz is. The "call and response" and the emphasis on two and four makes everything more exciting.
I've learned from some of the best of Portland's black gospel artists like Lorraine and Roslyn Wilder, Faye Innis and Terry Davis. There's a ton of small family Baptist and Pentecostal churches in northeast Portland.
There are vocalists in this town that you would not believe and they don't sing anywhere but in church. Right now I'm the Assistant Minister of Music at the True Vine Missionary Baptist Church on North Commercial.
Bands: My current band is a trio with bassist Willy Barber and drummer Reinhardt Melz. We're just really good friends and we did this gig at The Blue Monk and a CD came of it. The CD is called Wonderbread. The title comes from one of the tracks, which I wrote based on a Stevie Wonder tune. I always like to reference the original tune in some way.
For example, I've got another one called "She Ain't" which was based on "Ain't She Sweet." This trio has an ensemble feel since that's how the music I write comes out. It's fun to write to the strengths of these guys.
I also have a straight-ahead Jazz trio with Stu Cook on drums and Willy Barber on bass.
I've also toured extensively with Curtis Salgado. When Curtis first asked me to join his band I had no experience playing the blues, I was a Jazz and Gospel player. Curtis said, "That's OK come play gospel for me."
I'm in the Bobby Torres Ensemble; I work with Native-American performing artist Karen Therese, and I'm in a Funk band called Ocean 503 and a newly formed Brazilian/Funk band called Indigo featuring Chuk Barber, a displaced Hurricane Katrina musician from New Orleans.
Musical Influences: I'm a very big Bill Evans fan; I love Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Hampton Hawes, Big Masio, Otis Span, Prof. Longhair, as well as James P. Johnson, Willie Smith, Herbie Hancock, George Duke and Kenny Kirkland.
Most Satisfying Experience: The best gig I ever played was with Curtis Salgado at the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland when I first joined his band.
We laid down this set and we knew at the time it was magical. After we heard the recording of it we just said yeah, it was! Another satisfying experience is the duo I've had with Marilyn Keller over the years. We've developed a rapport and it's always different. (Marilyn's sister Vanessa is Brian's wife.)
Favorite Recordings: Bill Evans: Everybody Digs Bill Evans, The Bill Evans Album & I Will Say Goodbye; Horace Silver's Horace Silver Trio; Hampton Hawes Trio Vol. 3; Herbie Hancock Speak Like A Child; Bud Powell The Amazing Bud Powell; George Duke Brazilian Love Affair; Kenny Kirkland's Self Titled CD; McCoy Tyner Inception & Reaching Fourth.
What I'm Listening To Now Includes: Herbie Hancock's Manchild, Thrust; Memories Of Willie The Lion Smith; James P. Johnson's Harlem Stride Piano; Marc Cary Rhodes Ahead; George Duke's George Duke And Lots Of Tito Puente And Eddie Palmieri.
Discography: My new CD,Wonder- bread, is my first as a leader. It features Willy Barber and Reinhardt Melz as well as bassist Al Criado, guitarist Erick Hailstone and vocalist Priscilla De Vold.
Al Criado produced the CD at his studio and did a great job. The CD is not in stores yet but is available on CD Baby.com and Tower Records.com.
Other recordings I'm on as either a keyboardist, composer and/or arranger include: Silver Lining W/Pete Peterson, Wonche Be w/Obo Addy, Intimate Thoughts w/Cary Simms, Twelve O'clock Moon w/Victoria Corrigan, At Last w/ Marilyn Keller And Unrestrained w/Pamela Rae.
Gigs: 7/1 Bridgeport Village w/Johnny Martin 2:00, 7/4 Ft. Vancouver 4th of July Celebration w/Patrick Lamb 4:15, 7/6 Jamison Park (NW Portland) w/Bobby Torres 5:30, 7/8 Bacchus Restaurant w/Bobby Torres 9:00, 7/15 Cathedral Park Jazz Festival with Wonderbread 2:00, 7/15 Jimmy Maks w/ Bobby Torres 9:00, 7/16 Augustana Lutheran Church Jazz Service 6:00, 7/21 & 22 Spirit Mountain Casino w/Ocean 503 at 9:00, 7/27 Carnagie Center Oregon City w/Porkpie 5:00 and 7/29 on KMHD's Homegrown Live w/ Wonderbread 4:00.
Future Plans: I'll be making a new CD. I'm currently writing music for the next one. I'm keeping it going further in the same direction with the same guys. I plan on booking my two trios as much as possible.
Other Comments: While touring the country with Curtis I got a chance to see quite a bit. I came back to Portland with a new appreciation of the jazz scene here. The musicians that live here are some of the kindest, most beautiful people in the world.
-- Interviewed by Rita Rega